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These Homes Are At The Heart Of Shanghai's History

The one-time homes of some of China's most famous celebrities, politicians and artists.
Last updated: 2019-11-27
Photos: Angela Leung
The List is where we compile a few of the city’s best things, people, events, restaurants, KTVs, wine shops and whatever else we feel like putting into listicle format.

Shanghai is more than just our home. It's also been home for many of the most renowned figures in modern Chinese history. Not all of their history has been preserved in the rush to modernization, but threads of the past do exist at a handful of former residences dotted around the city.

We’ve put together a list of ten notable names that have called Shanghai home over the years, from architects to writers, politicians to artists. Their former residences are among the best-preserved in the city, and most are either free or almost free. Step inside for a glimpse into the history of the city, as well as the famous lives that helped shape it.

1. Lu Xun's Hongkou Hideaway

Lu Xun is widely touted as the father of modern Chinese literature. His Diary of A Madman from 1918 was the first modern Chinese story written in the plain, vernacular style, as opposed to the refined literary style that had been the norm since Confucius.

Lu was originally from Shaoxing but moved to this three-floor red-brick house in Hongkou in 1933, where he lived with his wife Xu Guangping and son Haiying until he died in 1936 at the age of 56.

He wrote nine collections of essays and translated four foreign literary works in this house; among them is Dead Souls, the masterpiece by Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol.

The house is now a museum, with the interiors unchanged from eight decades ago. The second and third floor show Lu's personal belongings, including his old desk, bed and tea table, as well as household items such as his wife’s sewing machine and a record player Lu bought for his son a year before he passed away.

As of this writing, the house is closed due to road construction but set to reopen on January 1, 2020. Entry is 8rmb. There’s an equally famous soup dumpling spot right across the street. Combine the two. Or go have a little stroll and soak up the sun in the park named after him.

2. Laszlo Hudec's Party House

Laszlo Hudec is a name to be reckoned with in Shanghai. The Hungarian-Slovak architect left an indelible body of modern architecture across the city, including the Grand Cinema, the Park Hotel and the American Club.

Hudec designed this three-story Tudor/Elizabethan-style house in 1930, where he lived with his family for eight years. His daughter Alessa de Wet recalled that their family home was pretty much an open house, with big garden parties for the Austro-Hungarian community every summer.

The house has been restored and its ground floor is now a Hudec Memorial Hall, with Hudec’s sketches, letters, photographs, and watercolor paintings, among many other things. Entry is free and there’s lots to do in the area from Columbia Circle to Xingfu Li.

3. Mao Zedong's Early Digs

Right off Maoming Bei Lu lies Mao Zedong’s former Shanghai residence, a two-floor traditional shikumen house.

The Chairman lived here for six months in 1924 with wife Yang Kaihui and their two children. Early days for the man who would go on to shape 20th century China. The house opened to the public in 1999 as a memorial to Mao, closed in 2015 for renovation and reopened in January 2018. We visited before; read about it here.

The first floor houses a small recreation of Mao’s living space. The second floor displays old photos and newspaper clippings documenting Mao’s work and the watershed moments of his life. Highlights include Mao’s old suits and a pair of Albanian cigars The Man smoked during his stay in Xijiao State Guest Hotel in 1963. However, most of the displays are in Chinese with very little English signage. Free to get in. Taco Bell and White Castle are a block up the street. Just saying. A hundred years is a long time.

4. Sun Yat-Sen's European Villa

Hailed as "the Father of Modern China," Sun Yat-Sen (Sun Wen) was the first president and the founder of the Republic of China. His former residence is a two-floor European-style villa nestled in a quiet and tree-lined neighborhood near Fuxing Park. This is where Sun and his wife Soong Ching-ling lived from 1918 to 1924, and where some of his most influential works were written.

In 1961, this century-old garden house was listed as a major cultural site to be protected at the national level. Adjacent to this private quarters lies the two-story Sun Yat-Sen Museum. It opened to the public in 1988. The first floor houses a collection of around 300 items showing an overview of the life and work of Sun, the revolutionary leader who toppled China’s last imperial dynasty.

Here you get to see some of Sun’s personal belongings such as a suit and a ceremonial sword. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to detailing the love story and marriage of Sun and his wife. Entry is 20rmb. It's right near Yandang Lu, with a bunch of shops, cafes, bars and one very good sesame noodle shop.

5. Soong Ching-ling's Amazing Garden Pad

Wife and widow of Sun Yat-Sen, and revered as the "Mother of Modern China," Soong Ching-ling was a leading figure in the development of the Communist Party and famously championed the rights of women and children over the course of her life.

Her house was originally built by a Greek shipping magnate in the 1920s. The government gave her the house in spring 1949, and she lived there until her death in 1981. During that time, she handled state affairs and received heads of state.

Make sure to peek into the garage, where her limousines are now parked: one was made in China in 1975; the other was a gift from Stalin in 1952.

The highlight of the house is definitely the 2,200sqm garden adorned with magnolias and Soong’s favorite, old, old camphor trees. Entry is 20rmb and the place is almost opposite Wukang Mansion, the "Flatiron" building, if you're on an architecture photo tour.

6. Zhou Enlai's CCP HQ

Zhou! Zhou Enlai is one of China’s most beloved politicians of the 20th century, and was the first premier of the People’s Republic of China, from 1949 until his death in 1976. He worked alongside Mao Zedong for decades. His old, three-story Spanish villa was built in the early 1920s right around the corner from Sun Yat-Sen's place. Block party!

The interiors here are sparse and the furniture isn't original. Nonetheless, this ivy-covered house was pivotal to Chinese history, serving as the Communist Party’s Shanghai office from 1946-1947.

It became a museum in 1979 and is, predictably, heavily slanted towards the CCP. Zhou's old black Buick is still in the garage, and in good condition. Entry is free but you have to show ID or give up a fingerprint to get in. Sinan Mansions is less than a block away, where another set of historic houses have been turned into retail spaces and you can grab a beer at Boxing Cat Brewery. If that's not reverential enough, given the subject matter, there's Fuxing Park just around the corner.

7. Ba Jin's Writer's Retreat

Ba Jin was the last of China's 20th-century literati. This is the big house on Selfie Street — Wukang Lu.

His place was one main building and two outbuildings surrounded by a large, beautiful garden. Ba and his family planted most of the flowers and trees themselves. He moved in with his family in 1955 and lived here for half a century until he died at an impressive 101 years of age in 2005. On the first floor of the main building, a three-story garden villa built in 1923, you can see what's called a "Sunshine Room." It was at the small desk here that Ba penned parts of the classic works Reunion and Record of Random Thoughts.

Thirty huge wooden bookshelves span all three floors of the house, and are packed with Ba's personal collection of antique books in many languages. Entry is free and you're right on Wukang Lu. Take a selfie and follow the crowds around the area.

8. Mei Lanfang's One-Time Residence

Mei Lanfang, a guy, was China's "Queen of Peking Opera" for his mastery of female roles. He was a huge opera star and supposedly the first to take Beijing Opera abroad. He toured in Japan in 1919, the United States in 1930, and the Soviet Union in 1932.

Mei moved from Beijing to Shanghai in 1932, into this four-floor, Spanish-style garden house at the end of a small lane, where he lived with his family for nearly twenty years. This was where Mei welcomed Charlie Chaplin and his wife in 1936. Today, it's been rented out and is a private office. The closest you can get is the wrought-iron gate.

9. Guo Moruo's Shanghai Stop

Guo Moruo did it all. The guy was an archeologist, philologist, historian and social activist, novelist and romantic poet. His poetry collection The Goddess is considered the foundation of modern Chinese poetry.

Guo returned to Shanghai following the war and moved into this two-story garden house with his third wife Yu Liqun from May 1946 to November 1947. No doubt, he held regular gatherings of politically important figures. He also translated Faust here. Guo's old home is now a private residence and the public isn't allowed in.

10. Zhang Leping's Cartoon Factory

Zhang Leping was one of China's pioneer manhua artists and the father and originator of China's serial comics. His name may not ring a bell for many, but everyone knows his cartoon character, Sanmao.

Zhang initially created the Sanmao the Orphan comics in 1935, Chin's first cartoon targeted at the youth 'dem. In 1947, his serial, The Wandering Life of Sanmao, was published and became his greatest hit. It documented life on the streets for a lovable homeless orphan.

Zhang moved to the second floor of this house on Wuyuan Lu and lived here from 1950 to 1992, where he produced a considerable amount of New Year paintings, sketches and color ink paintings. Most of the pieces on display on the first-floor are originals. Entry is free and you're in the heart of old Xuhui. So many places to wander, so many coffees to be had.